blog tome: conditioning, therapy, shiva, celebration
Most of you have at least a cursory familiarity with Patanjali, the great sage from the 2nd century BCE, who wrote down, or 'codified' the practice of yoga in the Yoga Sutras. Sutra means thread. These teachings were considered to be the threads that held together a human, through dictating one's moral and ethical guidelines. One of the most oft-quoted sutras reads: "yogas chitta vritti nirodhah". This means:
"Yoga is the control of the vrittis (or thought waves) of the mind". The vrittis are waves or modifications such as thoughts, memories, and emotions. The idea within Classical Yoga is that the vrittis keep one from seeing one's true self. Patanjali goes on to say, "When the vrittis are controlled, the seer abides in his own true nature." So, you see, a world was set up which placed a deep divide between the 'true nature' of a yogi and his or her immediate experience, which includes, usually, an impressive amount of fluctuation of the mind. For most of us, in fact, the mind just doesn't stop much. In order for the 'untrained' mind to just stop, we have to be fixated on some extreme phenomenon, whose intensity trumps the usual meanderings of the mind. Think: Sex (the good kind), a tornado, kayaking a class 5 rapid, having your appendix burst, etc. All riveting sorts of affairs which demand full attention. And the discursive mind stops. Or seems to, anyway. Maybe for even, like, 20 seconds!
For Patanjali, this is really sad and tragic. Because, entrapped in conditioning, we will never perceive the true nature of spirit (Purush). The average Yogi of Patanjali's era, convinced that the universe was strictly structured by a division between spirit and matter, or self and divine, focused intently upon self-control. The underlying emphasis was that the energies of this world, this realm, were base and unconscious, and were guided by a perverse ego-obsession that perpetuated suffering. The divine realm was undifferentiated, the place of the pure light of consciousness. Thus, a strict division was created between the divine realm, or Purusha, and the realm of the material, physical world in which humans create toil and trouble, Prakriti.
The only goal of human existence was to ascend, following strict yogic guidelines, to Samadhi, the final stage of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. Thus, the yogi finds total release from the wretched suffering of the cycles of birth and death. Tra-la-la!!
The stages that culminate in Samadhi were put forth in the sutras, Chapter 2, sutra 29, in what is known as the 8-limbs of yoga. Asana is only one of thses limbs.
The guidelines are strict. I myself, coming of age whilst trying to emulate my fantasy of the yogic lifestyle, made a serious effort to purify all of my actions and behavior and even thoughts and feelings, in order to sculpt myself into my projected image of what the ideal yogi was. This was comforting for a time. Discipline was good for me. My crazy mind seemed a little easier to co-exist with. But still, it was a lot of rigidity. I was beholden to a very rigidly defined system. Straying from the path was not an option. And despite the fact that one knows, intellectually, that one is to apply the 'laws' of the eightfold path only to oneself- never trying to foist them upon others - I found at times it was difficult to deal with the other humans- especially in relationship. So imperfect! Such beasts!!
This made becoming a therapist a little tricky. People tell therapists all the gnarliest things they have ever seen in human nature, either in others, or in themselves. Fortunately, concurrent with starting my internship at the East Bay Community Recovery Project, I also got awakened to splendor of Shaivism. A big dose of freedom came into my reality. Here are a few "bullet points" of what Shaivism has taught me and what it's meant for me as a fledgling therapist.
In Shaivism, the absolute is Shiva: and Shiva is ultimately simply love. We can therefore take the attitude that Love is the essential nature of all beings. Even in the midst of suffering, all clients who enter the therapy room have love at their essential core. All beings have only goodness in their deepest being. Love is the healing force, and everything that we employ to do our work; be it intellectual knowledge, the power of analysis or differentiation, the ability to connect and join, or acute intuition, we rely up on love.
There is much confusion that covers over that essence of love. This is due to ignorance, identification with the separate self, and because of the accumulation of karmas. Karmas get accumulated when the center of the self gets misplaced. In other words, when one becomes aligned with a part of oneself that is not the divine, when one believes wholeheartedly in their separateness, or gets caught in a conditioned identity, and takes an action based on that misunderstanding, karma gets accumulated.
Much of what causes pain is the attachment to identity. Affronts, offenses, and losses are often caused by or at least exacerbated by attachment to a rigid, small sense of self.
The first part of healing is to recognize that the center of each human being is the divine, the universal, the wholeness, the ground of being. That essence is love. The first tool is that of discernment, and what we need to discern is the depth of love that gives rise to all that is.
We are here to recognize that our individuated state is not a problem as long as we recognize ourselves as a manifestation of the divine. As long as we are able to do so, life can become a celebration.
Celebration of life becomes possible when we are able to create a bridge between the heart of the divine and this world of form.
However, the path is not always easy: we will continue to suffer, intermittently, as we build the bridge from the confused orientation with separateness to the freedom of being identified with the freedom of the divine. We can therefore hold the possibility of freedom from suffering, while we simultaneously refuse to be afraid of suffering. As Cheri Huber once said: "Suffering is optional. Pain is inevitable." Yes, and, in the moments when we find ourselves suffering, we are most free when we get curious about that process, rather than beating ourselves up for having been foolish enough to chose suffering again.
All of this, again, occurs by drawing a bigger circle of acceptance around us. And allowing everyone and everything in.
And, continuing to differentiate. For celebration of life is not the same as attachment to life as we know it.
We have to walk a tightrope between materialism (believing that 'maya' is all there is, and nihilism, not believing in anything in this world of forms.) We are here to celebrate our existence, but if we are celebrating so enthusiastically our experience on this physical plane that we buy into it fully, forgetting that this world of form is maya, or illusion, characterized primarily by impermanence, we will suffer intensely when this physical world deteriorates or when our needs within it are not met.
Fearlessness and Devotion must be evoked in order to face the pain of burning away the veils of illusion. One of the manifestations of Siva is Bhairava: Bhairava is the embodiment of fear, and it is said that those who meet him must confront the source of their own fears. We have to lay ourselves bare to the divine, even whilst frightened.
In Ancient India, Bhakti is easily accessed, through going into the heart center. Even in the midst of loss, and pain, one keeps the heart glistening with grief.
"Because You love the Burning -ground, I have made a Burning-ground of my heart - That You, Dark One, hunter of the Burning-ground, May dance Your eternal dance."
~ Bengali Hymn~
Therapy is the process of trusting in the client's essence as love, their ultimate wholeness, their fearlessness, and their capacity to integrate all the schisms of the conditioned reality. Therapy is taking on the seat of the witness, to model for the client their own inner capacity, until they innately step into that seat by themselves.
Until the jiva (soul) is free, it is ruled by spanda, which is the cosmic vibration that underlies all existence. Spanda is the fluctuation between expansion and contraction. Spanda is the building up and tearing down that is always at work in nature. When we are 'identified' we cannot very well relax into the modes of destruction, but from the wisdom of the heart even the destruction mode can be accepted. The heart is the essence of loving and then grieving, attaching and then releasing. According to Shaivism, the expansion and contraction happen simultaneously.
The body is the clearest representation of spanda that we have. The earth, as well, but the body is the central element of our experience - it gives us almost all of our information about how we feel, what we want, when we're safe and when we're not. The body rules.
The body is the receptacle of all experience. If we cannot tolerate the stress placed up on us, the body takes the brunt of it, accumulating stress and grief.
Moral of this seemingly endless rant?
Do your practice. Open up the body. Breathe. Not because you're going to save yourself from disintegration. Not because you think you should. Not because it makes you a better person (you're already perfect!) And not because you're hoping to have a good-looking corpse. But because love and clarity of mind rely up on it.